Virginia was among the first states to require criminal background checks for all public school teachers and other school board employees. Since 1989, all initial or first-time applicants offered or accepting employment have had to submit to fingerprinting and provide personal descriptive information to be forwarded along with the applicant's fingerprints through the Central Criminal Records Exchange to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a criminal background check. This requirement was extended in 1998 to include applicants for positions with accredited private and parochial schools.
Since 1997, applicants offered or accepting employment requiring direct contact with students have been required to provide written consent and the necessary personal information for the hiring school board to obtain a search of the registry maintained by the Virginia Department of Social Services of founded complaints of child abuse and neglect.
In 2006, the General Assembly expanded background check certifications to include employees of contractors employed by public schools who have direct contact with students.
Section 5414 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, required a national study of sexual abuse in schools. The study (attached to this email), Educator Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature, was conducted by Charol Shakeshaft of Hofstra University (now the chairman of the Department of Educational Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University) and published in 2004 by the U.S Department of Education (USED).
Foremost among Shakeshaft's recommendations for the prevention of sexual misconduct is the development of specific district-level policies prohibiting sexual misconduct and inappropriate relationships between educators and students including consensual relationships. Shakeshaft stated that local policies should describe prohibited behaviors to eliminate ambiguity about what types of actions are unacceptable.
The 2004 USED report also recommended mandatory training for educators and administrators about the prevention and detection of misconduct. Shakeshaft noted that sexual abuse prevention training for educators and other school employees whether pre-professional or in-service rarely includes training on the prevention and recognition of educator sexual misconduct. Rather, programs focus on recognizing and responding to abuse and neglect occurring outside the school.
The 2008 General Assembly with the support of the Board of Education approved HB 1439 and SB 241, which amended Standard 7 of the Standards of Quality by adding language requiring school boards to develop policies and procedures to address complaints of sexual abuse
of students by school board employees.
HB 1439 and SB 241 require local school boards to notify the Board of Education within 10 days if a licensed employee is dismissed or resigns due to a criminal conviction or founded child
abuse or neglect charge. In addition, HB 1439 and SB 241 require:
Court clerks to notify the Superintendent of Public Instruction when a person licensed by the Board of Education is convicted of a felony drug crime or a felony sex crime involving a child victim; and
Local social services departments to notify the state superintendent of license holders who have exhausted appeals after being identified as the subject of a founded case of abuse.
The 2008 General Assembly also erected additional barriers to employment and access to school buildings by offenders:
HB 1242 prohibits the employment of anyone whose job would require direct contact with students if the applicant is the subject of a founded case of physical or sexual abuse of a child. Additionally, the bill requires the dismissal of a teacher who, while employed by a local school board, becomes the subject of a founded case of physical or sexual abuse of a child and has exhausted all available appeals.
HB 567 prohibits any adult convicted of a sexually violent offense from entering and being present upon any property he knows or has reason to know is a public or private elementary or secondary school or child day care property during school hours and during school-related and school-sponsored activities. Previously, the prohibition only applied during school hours.
Mandatory background checks can keep offenders out of the system and reporting requirements increase the likelihood that convictions and founded cases of abuse are followed by timely licensure actions. But these measures focus on entry and exit points and do not provide a means for evaluating the conduct of current employees and volunteers.
Division-level policies are critical in the prevention of misconduct. Well-designed local policies, with specific consequences for willful violations, also can play a role in preventing individuals who have been dismissed but not prosecuted for misconduct from moving to a new school division and engaging in further misconduct with students. Adherence to specific rules governing communication, physical contact, and socializing with students also can protect teachers and other school board employees from false accusations and rumors.
Under the state constitution and state law, local school boards are responsible for the development of policies governing the conduct of their employees. The policy guidance and best practices described in Guidelines for the Prevention of Sexual Misconduct and Abuse in Virginia Public Schools adopted by the state Board of Education on March 24, 2011 are designed to assist school boards in crafting effective local policies to prevent abuse and meet their responsibilities under HB 1439 and SB 241 to develop policies and procedures to address complaints of sexual abuse of a student by a teacher or other school board employee.
State Policy and Background on Teacher Sexual Abuse policies
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